Article originally written for Seat42F.
“Melinda” May (Ming-Na Wen) takes center stage in the latest installment of MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. In flashback, fans finally learn why May is known as The Calvary, witnessing the traumatic event that drove her from field service and changed her into a closed-off person, while becoming a legendary hero to everyone else. It’s a sad story, but also a good one for a character who doesn’t always get as much development as the others purely because she doesn’t reveal much of herself.
The May that the “Melinda” flashbacks begin with is happily married to Dr. Andrew Garner (Blair Underwood) and ready to start a family. She loves her job and her life, and she’s a cheery optimist, at least when compared to the version we’ve grown to know. This episode not only satisfactorily explains the shift, but is an engaging, compelling story in its own right. It is probably the most important hour for this character so far.
MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. plays it smart by revealing the story now, using it to inform May’s relationship and trust of Coulson (Clark Gregg). As Bobbi (Adrianne Palicki) and Mack (Henry Simmons) show May and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) the evidence against Coulson, doubts among Coulson’s own team begin to accumulate. May trusts him because of their history together, and we see that. However, we also see that Coulson has kept secrets even from her, possibly putting together a group of those with super powers. Can Coulson really be trusted?
Both Coulson’s agenda and May’s backstory tie into Skye’s (Chloe Bennet) thread, too. Skye is happily training with the woman she soon realizes is her mother, Jiaying (Dichen Lachman). However, Jiaying tells Skye no one can know about their relationship because the others might see Skye’s treatment as favoritism. To demonstrate how such a perception can go wrong, she tells Skye May’s tale, which ends in May having to kill a super-powered child.
The way these three all fit together so seamlessly is impressive. MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. tends to plod along for awhile, usually good but somehow not quite great, for large parts of the season. Like last year, however, there is a greater plan working behind the scenes, and when everything is known, it all comes together awesomely. “Melinda” is one of those installments that pays off viewers for sticking with the series through the lesser episodes.
It is not without flaw. Despite Jiaying telling Skye they need to keep their bond a secret, when the two eat dinner with Calvin (Kyle MacLachlan), they aren’t very careful in what they say. Lincoln (Luke Mitchell) walks right in on them, though he may not yet understand what he is seeing. Also, while it must feel extremely good for Skye to have eat with her parents for the first time ever, something she’s longed for for so long, can she really overlook Cal’s violent and cruel missteps that bring her to this place? There’s a limit of what is forgivable. This may not quite be an error in storytelling, but I’d like to see Skye resist just a little more.
Still, “Melinda” is mostly good. The stories mentioned above are fascinating, and we also see Gordon (Jamie Harris) working with Raina (Ruth Negga) to try to find her hidden gifts, which Lincoln may have stumbled upon. Raina is unhappy, and justly so, but if she has the power to see the future, as is indicated, she could become even more important to AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. Plus, the episode ends with Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) asking Coulson and Hunter (Nick Blood) to help him lose a tail, which seems like it will be a lot of fun.
In general, “Melinda” is a triumph for MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. It reveals a lot about important players, especially May and Coulson, and it helps set up what should be a very exciting finale. If the show can deliver more episodes like this one, I’d have almost no complaints about it. Not that I have that many now, but it could usually be just a bit better, and “Melinda” proves that.
MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.